A Death in Sheffield
Once back at the Green Goose, the Innkeeper informed Artemis that Lord Droughm had sent a message saying he’d been detained, and would instead return home after dinner. Unsurprised, she immediately decided she needed to evade Lady Tallyer, and so announced, “I am going to lie down for a bit.”
“Allow me to keep you company.”
“I’d rather be alone,” Artemis replied with a touch of annoyance. She was well-sick of Lady Tallyer, and wondered what on earth Droughm had ever seen in her in the first place—aside from the obvious fact that she was sophisticated, and beautiful, and closer to his own age. In her current frame of mind, she could not trust herself not to push the woman down the stairs.
“I’m afraid we have little choice,” the lady said in a low voice. “I am entrusted with your safety; I will read in a corner, if that is agreeable.”
I imagine it was not my safety they are worried about, thought Artemis as she mounted the stairs; more like they are afraid I’ll take the stupid minting plates and abscond. Hell and damnation, but I am in a foul mood.
Although she would have much rather gone riding—or even taken a brisk walk to sort out her unhappy thoughts—Artemis dutifully entered the bedchamber to rest, whilst Lady Tallyer sat quietly in a corner of the sitting room, reading.
Katy brought Artemis a flannel soaked in lavender water, and laid it on her brow. “May I bring you anything, miss—I mean, my lady?”
“I feel much better, Katy—I think I just had a weak spell for a moment.”
Katy eyed her with a speculative gleam. “Do you suppose—”
“No,” said Artemis shortly, and then was ashamed she’d snapped at faithful Katy. “I don’t enjoy shopping, is all.”
“Oh.” Katy looked a bit taken aback by the revelation that shopping could bring on such a reaction. “But you did buy some lovely things—his lordship will be that pleased with your new nightdress.”
Artemis could not bring herself to answer, and wondered if perhaps she should actually start wearing a nightdress, just to punish her husband for this little episode. “Katy—when Droughm returns, I’d like to speak with him in private, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, miss.” The girl leaned in to whisper, “And Lady Tallyer won’t be staying long, I think. She keeps checking the time, so she must have an appointment with someone.”
If she is also going off to rendezvous with Droughm, I will not be answerable for the consequences, thought Artemis, and then calmed herself; the lady was no doubt going to meet with her compatriots—perhaps this Tremaine-person, who was clearly lurking in the background—and as long as she was away from Artemis it hardly mattered.
When Droughm did return, he apologized for his late arrival and took Artemis’ good hand in his as he kissed her cheek. Not an ounce of shame or guilt could be discerned as he said easily, “Matters took more time than I’d anticipated.”
“No matter,” Artemis disclaimed. “I have been well-entertained by Carena.”
Reading her aright, he shot her a cautionary look, and thanked Lady Tallyer, who gave him a rather sad smile and then glided out the door, her hips gently swaying.
“I hate her,” said Artemis crossly. “And I am perilously close to hating you.”
“What is this?” he asked in surprise, shooting her a glance as he poured himself a whiskey.
Charitably, she allowed him to take a healthy swallow before she asked, “What was your business with Miss Valdez today?”
His head snapped up, and he regarded her, his expression unreadable. “What have you heard?”
In a quiet tone, she replied, “That is not much of an answer, Pen.”
They stood for a silent moment, then he gestured for her to sit, as he pulled up a chair so that they were nearly knee to knee. The pale green eyes searched hers, and she wondered if he was hoping she would speak first, so as to give him some insight as to how much she knew. The thought was annoying in the extreme, and she remained silent, waiting.
He leaned forward, his forearms resting on his thighs and his hands clasped between his knees. “She is here,” he admitted in an even tone. “I must meet with her, because I have no choice.”
He ducked his head. “It is a delicate situation.”
For some reason—perhaps it was his choice of words—Artemis leapt to a horrifying conclusion, and stared at him as she felt the blood drain from her face. “She carries your child.”
“Good God, Artemis—no—no, of course not.” There was no doubt that he was genuinely stricken as he reached to cradle her face, running his thumb over her cheeks. “Oh, my darling; is that what you thought? I am so sorry—” Speechless with remorse, he pulled her rather roughly into his lap, and brought his forehead to rest against hers.
Nearly overcome with relief, she nevertheless persisted, “If it’s not that, Pen—then what? Is it Wentworth again? What can be worth this?” Hearing the thread of anxiety in her voice, she pressed her lips together and took a breath, to steady herself.
His arms still restless on her, he said slowly, “I’m afraid I cannot say.”
She drew back to allow her gaze to search his. “Even to me?”
“Even to you. I am so sorry, Artemis.”
“Did you take her to bed?” Despite her best efforts, Artemis could feel her lower lip tremble.
“No.” He lifted her hand to kiss it, his eyes still anxious on hers. “No—my word of honor, Artemis.”
Ashamed of her loss of composure, she dropped her gaze. “I was worried you may have. For Wentworth, or England, or some such thing.”
“Not even for England,” he said softly, and stroked her hair back at the temple. “My poor Artemis.”
“Will you meet with her again?”
“I can speak no more on the subject,” he said gently. “Have you eaten?”
“Have you?” she asked sharply, shooting him a look.
Sidestepping an answer, he offered, “Allow me to have something sent up—anything you’d like.”
“An ice,” she decided. “No opium.”
He rose, and she sank back into the chair as he summoned a servant and issued the order. Watching him, she contemplated the unbidden thought that had suddenly crept into her mind; Droughm had been guarded and a bit withdrawn toward the beginning of their conversation—wary—but then he’d broken into genuine and heartfelt remorse, when she’d expressed her fear of Miss Valdez’s pregnancy.
I think, she realized in dawning puzzlement, that he was going to lead me to believe he’d bedded the wretched woman—or at least, leave the possibility on the table—but then couldn’t bring himself to do it. But why on earth would he willingly cause me such misery—what would be the point? Following this train of thought, she realized something she’d been too upset to think about previously—how strange it was that a supposedly clandestine meeting between Droughm and Miss Valdez took place at a public hotel, and directly in her line of sight from the table in the tea room.
With some wonderment, she thought, Why, I believe this was all done on purpose—and I am being goaded into taking some action. But what? They have the wretched plates, for heaven’s sake—do they want me to leave Droughm? Why?
Her husband returned to take his seat across from her, watching her with a hint of concern. Remembering when he’d advised her to be ready to flee the country, Artemis debated whether she should simply ask him outright what was afoot. Best not, she decided—or at least not yet. He does have to worry that I am committing treason, after all, and perhaps whatever is going forward will alleviate his fears, once and for all.
“Are you angry?”
“I don’t know what I am,” she answered honestly.
He made a gesture toward the settee. “Should I sleep out here tonight?”
“Of course not,” she replied with some surprise. “I love you, and I always will.”
He ducked his head, and swore.
Watching his reaction with some alarm, she ventured, “Is it time to pack my bags, Pen?”
“Not as yet; but stand ready.” He was completely serious.
“Yes, sir,” she replied in a small voice.